This is a story about dogs being cute. It does not involve them shitting.

There’s a small, yappy dog in our neighborhood. It has terrible owners who leave it outside all the time, and whenever it’s outside, it barks nonstop. I feel bad for the dog, because it’s clearly lonely and stressed, and I really dislike the owners for not being more responsible with their pet.

For the longest time, when that little dog would get going, our dogs would run into the backyard and start barking with it. This created a delightful feedback loop that was actually the opposite of delightful.

I’ve used positive reinforcement to train all of our dogs, so to stop them from this behavior, I started saying to them, “Hey! What do we do when that dog barks?” and giving them treats when they were quiet. After a few weeks of this, when that dog barks, they just go straight to the place in the kitchen where we keep the treats, sit, and wait for us to reward them. It’s been really awesome, and just saying “What do we do?” calms them down whenever they get worked up at anything outside, from people walking dogs to helicopters flying overhead, to the mailman delivering our tacos.

Seamus is a really smart dog, and he picks up on things really fast. Riley isn’t nearly as smart, and Marlowe is probably going to end up being as smart as Seamus, just as soon as she learns a little more self-control and better manners (she’s only 18 months, but she’s right on pace, as far as we’re concerned.) Seamus has figured out that he can bark once at absolutely nothing, then calm himself down, and go wait for treats. The other dogs usually run into the kitchen and join him.  I don’t mind him thinking that he’s tricking us, because it just further reinforces the behavior we want, anyway.

So a couple of nights ago, Marlowe was next to Seamus, chewing on an antler* in the living room, and Seamus wanted it. He’s above her in pack status, so he could probably just take it, but he’s not like that with her. I watched him look at her, look at me in the kitchen, then look back at her. He barked once, and stood up. Marlowe jumped up, dropped the antler, and raced into the kitchen to the place where the treats are. Seamus calmly laid down, picked up the antler, and began to chew.

“Dude, that was amazing,” I said to him. I gave Marlowe a consolation treat, as he closed his eyes and chewed, contentedly.

*This is the best thing ever, for aggressive chewers. They are humanely gathered from places where they’ve already fallen off the deer or elk or whatever, washed and sterilized, and cut into varying lengths. It’s natural, doesn’t run the risks associated with bits of plastic or rawhide, and a large one lasts for about six months with Seamus and Marlowe, who are incredibly aggressive chewers.

47 thoughts on “This is a story about dogs being cute. It does not involve them shitting.”

  1. Don’t you love conniving puppies? If one of mine wants the other’s spot on the couch, she goes into the hall and drops a ball. He comes running thinking that *finally* someone wants to play with him, and she settles down for a nap in the warm spot!

  2. Clever dogs are the best dogs. They’re like the Sean Connery of dogs. They don’t need to fight – they outsmart every time.

  3. This reminds me of when I had two jack russel terriers, the bigger one, Soccer thought he was in charge, and would run to the door and bark when something outside disturbed him. Now the smaller one, Knuckles( we almost picked sonic but that would be confusing), was smarter and let Soccer think he was the boss. They both liked relaxing in the same chair, and Soccer, being the boss got it first; whenever Knuckles decided he wanted the chair, he’d back once, sending Soccer sprinting towards the door. While Soccer was busy, Knuckles would promptly steal the spot, and Soccer would come back and be disappointed. They got along so they never fought over the spot, they had an unspoken “if it’s vacant it’s up for grabs” rule.

  4. I’m a veterinarian in Phoenix, AZ. While you are entirely right that antlers don’t have the risks of plastic or rawhide, unfortunately, we commonly see dogs fracture their teeth while chewing on antlers. For this reason, I don’t recommend them. Finding something safe and effective for dogs to chew on still seems to be difficult for the pet industry. Sadly, there isn’t anything out there that I think works well for every dog.

  5. Another ‘me too’ story: Oliver is a whip smart lab and we used to also have an older, smaller, dog, Eddie, who just wanted a quiet life. Eddie was mostly deaf so relied on Oliver a lot for queues.

    Oliver quickly learned that if he barked and ran to the door, Eddie would get up from the memory foam bed and follow him. At which point Oliver would turn on the spot, vault over Eddie, and take prime spot.

    The wonderful thing was that the stinky old little Eddie was somehow above Oliver in the pack so as soon as he wombled back in, Oliver would yield the bed.

  6. Much better than what one of our dogs did to distract the other: “Dude, if you don’t give that to me, I’ll lick your rocket.” Ollie keeps chewing on toy, “You were warned.” SLURP. Worked every time.

  7. Oh my god. He is so very clever. Had a good laugh reading it, and still got a silly smile on face typing this…ummmm not the smile typing, i do that…lol.

  8. We have a chocolate lab who loves to chew antlers, I’ve rececently bought him a Anco Root (not sure if you can get get these in America)…but these seem to be lasting a long time and he enjoys chewing these as well.

  9. In high school, we had two Shelties. One who was insanely smart, Ted, and one who wanted to be the leader of the pack, Akela. Ted was ALWAYS hungry, and Akela was a slow and meticulous eater. Ted figured out that he could inhale all his food, go stand by the back door and bark. Akela would want in on all the barking and race past Ted into the back yard. Ted then went back and finished Akela’s dinner for him.

    Ted also figured out that my mom couldn’t stand to see him limp on walks (he had bad hips), and he didn’t like walking up the long hill back to my parent’s house. So he’d start to limp, my mom would carry him up the hill, then he’d run into the house like nothing was wrong.

    They were awesome dogs! Miss them. <3

  10. We used to have these two dogs, Sheba and Smudge, and they both loved cooked spaghetti. This one night, we had some plain cooked spaghetti left over after dinner and so we put some in each of their bowls. Sheba ate hers immediately, but Smudge decided to lay down next to his bowl and just guarded it. This drove Sheba crazy! She ran out to the living room and woo-woo’d at us, then ran back to the kitchen. We didn’t follow, so she ran back a couple more times and woo-woo’d at us. Figuring out that we weren’t going to make him either eat it or give it to her, she suddenly ran to the front door and started barking. Smudge runs out of the kitchen to the front door, but Sheba is already on her way to the kitchen where she eats all his spaghetti.

    1. I had a Beagle named Seamus. He was a clever dog, always finding ways to outsmart his pack mates and his humans. Maybe it’s the name?

  11. I love this, and I love that you used positive reinforcement. I did the same thing with my cat to keep from tripping over her while in the kitchen because she was hungry, and now she seats herself beside the food bowl every time I’m in there, whether it’s empty or not. And well done Seamus!

  12. My parent’s dogs do that for lap status. Ziggy is top dog, and he gets to sit on Mum’s lap. Every now and then, he’ll refuse to let Zoey onto the couch, and she’ll sulk on the floor for a few minutes, before running to the window, barking once like someone is outside, letting Ziggy leap from Mum’s lap to check out the window while she settles herself on the lap. Sneaky dogs are sneaky.

  13. This is the kind of a secret that only most people who share their homes with animal companions (“pets” to the rest of the planet) know–our companions can be quite smart and intuitive. Speaking as someone who shares her home with cats (only 2–not ready for a TLC show yet), I have daily proof that they are very “quid pro quo” when it comes to following directions/requests. However, have to admit, the whole antler-thing is new to me.

  14. Pretty cool that someone was able to capitalize on discarded antlers as chew toys.

    Yeah, the antlers grow in the fall, then there’s the brief period where the bucks use them to fight for mates during rutting season. Then the antlers fall off mid-winter.

    That’s why hunting season is so short and timed when it is–it’s when the bucks have big antlers, and they’re running around being less cautious than they might otherwise be. There aren’t any fauns, and the does aren’t carrying young.

    My uncle’s cabin has an *enormous* matching set of elk antlers mounted on a board. My grandfather found them, discarded, late in the winter when he was hunting something else (ducks, I think).

  15. That is amazingly strategic. Our dogs are not that smart. I do like the reinforcement for being quiet, because our new dog gets really worked up about anything outside. And antlers are AWESOME – the only things that our first dog, who otherwise destroys anything that is not an actual original Kong in no time, can work on forever and never kill. We’ve never had any problems with dental injuries, and no one ever gets up in the middle of the night to vomit up an entire pile of one in front of the bedroom door (looking at you, rawhides).

  16. PetSmart and Petco always seem to have them where I live. I usually just get my brother-in-law down in Conroe to send me ones that they find dropped in the woods.

  17. I have heard similar comments about the antlers causing tooth fractures, but it seems to be a certain type of chewer; one that “snaps” while chewing the antlers. The dogs who really gnaw at their bones/antlers seem to get along just fine with the hardness. But as with all things, just keep an eye on the dog and be aware of any sensitivity. Our farm dogs have always safely chewed on hard (nearly petrified) bones and antlers without incident.

  18. That’s amazing. Well done, Seamus.

    And I have to tell you that while I agree on the antler thing, I have taken one out of one dog. A Weim. He did well eventually, though. Sigh…silly dogs. 😉

  19. I’m in the process of teaching our puppy “sit”. He’s pretty much got it down, but every once in a while I’ll be sitting down and he’ll come up to me, plop his butt down, and look at me like “OK, I sat, where’s my treat?”

    And I need to get an antler for this dog, he’s chewing anything that’s left within reach. I think bitter apple spray is just a condiment to him.

  20. Antlers are wonderful, but keep an eye on them – my 5yo border collie actually ground down her teeth by chewing on them aggressively for just a year. We are now an antler-free household because of it, sadly for the other dogs.

  21. I Love those antlers! Antlers are pretty much the only thing that my catahoula leopard dog couldn’t shatter. Even at 14 years old she could decimate just about any other bone on the market. And now that I have a wee chihuahua mix, I get the ones that are split in half. He can get to the marrow in those and still enjoy them for a long while.

  22. Ditto on the antlers! We use them for our husky/pit mix who is an insanely aggressive chewer. They’re fabulous.

  23. Your mailman delivers tacos? That is awesome! I love the stories about your animals – thank you for sharing!!

  24. I too have a dog that’s too smart my own good. He does the same barking at imaginary things to get rewarded. The funniest was when we got our kitten; he wanted to play with her, but she was hiding somewhere. So he set a trap for her using a waffle he stole as bait.

  25. Seamus is indeed a smart dog. I wish I could condition my neighbor’s dog to stop barking incessantly at anything that moves. He knows me for living next door for 2+ years so recognizes my voice I’m sure. As a type of hunting breed he’s territorial and barks from the backyard when myself or other apartment tenants walk up the stairs. Since his yard also faces toward the park across the street, he parks at people walking their dogs. I’m fairly certain the owner never trained the dog to not bark. Sadly the barking is getting worse since the male owner passed away and his widow lets the dog roam. *sigh*

  26. You know what I think your dogs would love? A burrito, the kind without radio.

    OK, so this post is off topic but I am jonesing for a burrito, and it has been about a year since the last RFB.

    So to quote Homer Simpson:

    Where’s my burrito?! Where’s my burrito?!

  27. Not in the UK, If you find Antlers you have to hand them in as they are the Queens property, Christ only know what she does with them though!

  28. Thank you for being amazing and one of the few Internet idols of mine that knows how to manage dogs! I’m an aspiring behaviorist and when people see me working with my dogs they often ask “who’s training who?” I always respond that we are training each other. :)

  29. I once watched my spaniel do the exact same trick. Two newly acquired pups (large pups) were in her favorite chair, so she went to the back door, deliberately looked over her shoulder at the two and gave a quiet “woof.” Instantly, they were at her side to see what was in the yard. She quietly backed out from between them and claimed her chair. Smartest dog I ever had.

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